Inspired by “Nine Lives: In search of the sacred in modern India” by William Dalrymple and various monographs published by Jain monks and nuns, I try to capture the world of Jain nuns across India.

I was intrigued by the lives of Jain nuns and wanted to explore ascetic life beyond the white robes, shaved heads and barefoot commuting. My curiosity took me to Rajasthan, Gujarat, Mumbai and Madhya Pradesh where I tried finding convincing answers to why renunciation brings so much peace to a nun’s life and what inspired them to accept renunciation. During my brief conversation with nuns, I started documenting potential visual moments and interesting imagery.

There are 7,000-8,000 nuns in the community. They wake up at 3.30-4 am and pray in pre-dawn darkness. Jain monks and nuns are not allowed to use electricity. It takes them a month to get one handcrafted bowl ready. They paint it with their fingers as brushes have animal hairs. After visiting the temple, the nuns settle down to study. There are exams to prepare for, lectures to attend and any conversations in between would be about religion and rituals. They have two more meals, the last one before sundown. They meditate two or three times a day. Except in Mumbai, Jain nuns don’t use bathrooms. Water shouldn’t be wasted at all. They don’t have a bath throughout their life.

In case of illness, Ayurvedic doctors are consulted, but only as a last resort. Jain nuns can’t take Western medicines or be hospitalised. If they happen to be diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, they voluntarily starve themselves to death. 
They feel a bond of tenderness, respect, and protection for humans. In their compass, everybody is equal.
There are a few activities that Jain nuns must conduct in privacy — like eating, where they huddle behind a curtain. And the diksha (initiation) ceremony, where a nun is initiated into the fold after training.

Ash is applied to the head and each hair is plucked out. The nun-to-be shows no sign of pain. A Jain nun must pluck out her hair twice a year, and many do it themselves. 
Some nuns are as young as 10. But their maturity will surprise you. ‘Inner voice’ was a common refrain from other nuns as well. Engineers, doctors and countless others spoke of finding peace through renunciation.

I search for satisfying answers to difficult questions concerning validation of asceticism in modern times from nuns, who have disconnected themselves from this world leaving no room for communication.






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A nun a bird in the sky

conquered passions, cravings,

feelings desire to taste the banned,

let the hair down and hold his hand

A nun a stream of water

sacrificed the abode, the folks,

the touch of father, brother,

husband and a son

the trips to mall, movies,

night club and all that fun

A nun a child out of the cradle

joy a leaf in the wind,

away from the stationary tree,

looking back it smiles and

squeals Free.

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Pooja Jain is an independent photographer based in Mumbai, India. She studied at Sir JJ School of Arts, and was selected for the young Asian Photographers Workshop at the 7th Angkor Photography Festival. Following a scholarship at Oslo University, she exhibited work at the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography VII, and at the second edition of the Delhi Photo Festival 2013. She is the winner of the Toto award for young photographers, 2014.


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  • giris4ss

    Touching real story. It draws us by surprise when we compare the lives of these nuns with rest of us

  • Lalit Surjan

    This photo essay is simply marvelous giving a rare insight about the subject.

  • I see nothing but repressed beings……..but the photographs are excellent

  • I must say that the photography is really amazing……..but the topic at hand is really disturbing……….I think someone who really hates their life will only intend to walk this sadomasochistic path. People who have nothing left of their soul or the inner humanity. I wonder how a human being can be so stupid and neglect the inner joyfulness, and tread on a path that is unkind and brutal. How can someone let themselves be brainwashed to this extent where they cannot even see right from wrong. I think every human knows the difference between right and wrong and is born completely innocent and free. It is society and religion that totally screw them, even buddha himself in his teachings mentioned that inner torment is never a path to salvation. Jain monks and nuns always talk about freedom from worldly desires, but in the very dark corners of their mind they have this sick philosophy that torturing yourself physically in this birth will provide you with a really luxurious and happy afterlife…….if this is not a desire, than what is. A pseudo promise to make your mind numb……I am not in favor of hedonism either, but this is the worst a human being can treat himself/herself. Compassion starts with you and follows on to others through you.

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